This January, we were all pleased to celebrate our 250th trip out to the Linnaeus Microbial Observatory (LMO). The site, located about 11 km off the coast of Kårehamn, has been visited at least every month (sometimes twice weekly!) by a dedicated team of researchers in order to collect samples that are the basis of data for several Linnaeus University research groups, as well as to international marine ecological studies.
Sampling at LMO began in 2011, with just a few liters of water collection each time. Since then, the intensity and volume of sampling has increased and now covers everything from virus, bacteria, phytoplankton and zooplankton as well as a number of additional parameters. Since 2014 the LMO has had its very own “smart buoy,” which measures temperature, salinity and chlorophyll and can be monitored in real time.
I sat down with Emil Fridolfsson, a PhD student studying food web dynamics here at LNU and Öland native who often braves the choppy waters off the coast of Kårehamn, and asked him to tell me a bit more about that mysterious site at N 56° 55.8540′, E 17° 3.6420′.
Why do we take these samples?
The Baltic Sea, a partially enclosed body of water that shares a border with nine different countries, suffers from overfishing and eutrophication and is threatened with the effects of climate change. These effects could be crippling to the ecological balance of the sea. It is therefore a crucial area of study for aquatic ecologists. The Swedish government-funded program, EcoChange, a Linnaeus / Umeå University collaboration, investigates food web responses and seasonal dynamic shifts related to climate change in the Baltic Sea. Different research groups study a variety of ecological elements, including bacteria, phytoplankton, viruses, zooplankton, and bioinformatics.
Why do we sample there?
LMO is an offshore station and we sample in the pelagic zone. This site offers us different data than if you were to sample closer to shore. We sample at the same site every time because high-frequency sampling over an extended period of time allows you to see seasonal differences as well as annual differences. For instance, we’d be able to know if a spring bloom was delayed and try to understand why. Before the LMO, there was no real coverage of this type of data from this area of the Baltic.
What happens on a typical sampling day?
We start by packing the car and driving to Kårehamn. From there, we either take a smaller boat or go out with Northern Offshore Servies (NOS) boat, Provider, which is stationed in Kårehamn to serve EON’s windpark. We drive it out into the often very choppy waters and when we arrive, we take water samples and tow with plankton nets (big butterfly nets that collect everything that is larger than the mesh).
The 250 sampling trips to the Linnaeus Microbial Observatory have served over 80 published works and counting. It is the site that we have used for investigating everything from microbes to higher organisms, leading us to new discoveries and a deeper understanding of the Baltic Sea, which touches the lives of 85 million people every day.
Fun After-Fact: In addition to the LMO, we’re establishing a new sampling station here at LNU, right on the pier in Kalmar… sampling for everyone!
-Caroline Littlefield Karlsson